What a weekend! Beer, steam engines, live music, Awdry engines and original layouts galore!
We’ve just enjoyed what was probably the busiest weekend we’ve had for five years, following the easing of Covid restrictions in Wales. The weekend of 14/15 August was an occasion which generated the very maximum interest that the continuing Covid precautions could accommodate. Billed as the ‘Awdry Extravaganza’, the two-day programme was based around a celebration of the ‘Railway Series’ of books by the Rev. Wilbert Awdry, creator of the famous ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’. The Skarloey Railway engines had come to visit us for the weekend, so Rheneas, Sir Handel, Peter Sam and Ivo Hugh were out running trains. Rusty was on hand at Wharf for shunting, when needed.
The Rev. Awdry was an Anglican priest and railway enthusiast who became an enthusiastic member and volunteer guard on the Talyllyn Railway in 1952, just a year after we had become the first preserved railway to be owned and operated as a heritage railway. Awdry’s experiences on the Talyllyn inspired him to create a fictitious narrow gauge railway, the Skarloey Railway, which became the subject of an additional series of books within his ‘railway’ series.
The Narrow Gauge Railway Museum, housed at Wharf Station, already has a reproduction exhibit of Awdry’s study from which he wrote all of his famous Railway series, with the original furniture and contents given to the museum by his family. Over this weekend, the extravaganza weekend included a once in a lifetime exhibition of the Rev. Awdry’s work. On display was some of the original artwork from the ‘Railway Series’, original Sodor maps, and Rev. Awdry’s own model railway layouts – the ‘Ffarquhar Branch’ and ‘Ulfstead Road’. This is the first time they have been displayed together for over 20 years, along with some of Awdry’s own models of ‘Thomas’ and other locomotives that he used to take around the country to illustrate his talks.
The exhibition was opened on Saturday morning by the Bishop of Bangor, the Right Reverend Andrew John. Bishop Andy, as he prefers to be known, has been a frequent and very supportive visitor to the Railway since becoming our diocesan bishop in 2008.
After conducting a short opening ceremony, Bishop Andy was given a tour of the Awdry Extravaganza, taking the opportunity of controlling both of the two exhibited Awdry model layouts. He then went to meet with other Talyllyn staff and volunteers and with members of the public before joining one of the timetabled trains.
Our other special guest for the weekend was popular TV presenter and railway historian, Tim Dunn, who roamed around conducting interviews with staff and volunteers taking part in the presentations. These interviews were live streamed over the Talyllyn Railway Facebook page.
On Saturday evening Tim presented a brilliantly enthusiastic reading of the Rev. Awdry’s original “History of Sodor” lecture, which was given to a packed audience, and live streamed. The live stream broadcast was watched by over 200 people who had bought a ‘virtual’ ticket, many of them presently abroad, of whom some had even stayed up during the night to watch it. We’re hoping to make the lecture available to watch soon.
The Awdry Extravaganza ran over the whole weekend. Trains were all filled to the capacity that social distancing and continuing Covid precautions were able to accommodate. We also had a beer, cider and Welsh gin festival taking place Friday evening to Sunday, and local band BackToBackTrax rocked a busy Wharf Station on Saturday night.
Society Chairman, Jonathan Mann said:
“The Awdry connection is something we are very proud of, and it takes us right back to our roots. Indeed, the Skarloey Railway stories feature a number of incidents that actually happened on the Talyllyn Railway. We are very fortunate to have Wilbert Awdry’s study and many model railway items in the Museum. The displays and layouts were viewed eagerly not just by members of the public, but also by members of the family, who we were delighted to welcome to the Railway.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make this event the great success that it was. After a very difficult period, it was really encouraging to see so many visitors enjoying themselves again in a more normal – but still careful – manner.”
Running the Awdry model railway layout. Photo: Karen Willans.
It was fantastic to see the railway so busy and so many people enjoying themselves. Many thanks are due to the staff and volunteers who organized and ran the fabulous Awdry Extravaganza, the top team on the bar and everyone who travelled to Tywyn for an amazing and memorable weekend.
Awdry Extravaganza videos
Tim Dunn introduces the Awdry Extravaganza:
Tim and Luke’s grand tour:
You can also watch our Wondering Webcam’s Awdry Extravaganza Peter Sam and friends livestream on our YouTube channel.
Our next event is on 10/11 September 2021 for No 4 Edward Thomas’ Centenary Gala.
The Talyllyn Railway continues to operate following the Covid legislation and guidelines issued by the Welsh Government. Pre booking is advised as numbers are limited and only compartments may be booked for families or social bubbles. Seats on the train are only available as ‘round trips’ and will all start and finish at Wharf Station. Masks continue to be required to be worn in indoor areas. It is hoped that a return to more familiar practices may be possible from September 1st if conditions allow.
For further information about this press release please e-mail: [email protected] or phone 01654 710472.